More than a thousand freshwater fish species are native to the southern United States- under the 38th parallel, more or less, with more species recognized annually. The same goes for the region’s 350 freshwater crayfish, freshwater mussels, and thousands of other aquatic invertebrate species. Hundreds of frogs, toads, salamanders and turtles. It’s an ancient landscape spared from ice sheets and oceans for eons, allowing an incremental accumulation of species comparable with any other temperate region on the planet. It’s threatened- by agriculture, dams, invasive species, urbanization. Its imperiled fauna receive a fraction of the conservation attention of other, more species depauperate regions of the U.S.
I didn’t know all this when I was seventeen. Barely aware, at best. I was just pitching hoppers under brush late September browns when something dark squirmed under my sneaker, a sculpin or a madtom, probably. But in that moment I realized my experience was a small and superficial part of the whole story. I wanted to understand the rest.
Anglers have a unique relationship with ecology, demanding protection of some native species and facilitating extermination of others. Angling cuts across political and socioeconomic lines, and individuals with little else in common can share an interest in conserving biodiversity and natural resources through the places they mutually cherish. Angling delivered me to conservation biology, to a greater awareness of the diversity at my doorstep and the strain we exert on its future. If I can share that experience and awaken that curiosity in others, I think this exercise will be of value.